For my tenth speech in Toastmasters, I wanted to tackle a difficult technical idea and turn it into something personal and inspiring to everyone. That idea is none other than the many-worlds interpretation.
“There are million, million worlds. All different, all similar. Constants and variables. There is always a lighthouse, there is always a man, there is always a city. I can see them through the doors. You, me, Columbia, Songbird. But sometimes, something is different, yet the same.”
That was a quote from one of my favorite video games: Bioshock Infinite. A man named Booker travels to Columbia, a utopian city floating in the sky, in the search of his long lost daughter, Anna. Towards the end, Booker realizes that he is just one of many Booker’s, each living in his own universe, and many of them had died and failed to rescue Anna. Was he going to be different from them?
I want to share with you a theory—one of my personal beliefs—that comes from quantum physics. It’s called the many-worlds interpretation, but you may know better of it as parallel universes or alternate universes. Don’t worry. It’s not the quantum physics that I am interested in and want you to be interested in, but rather, faith, trust, and positive outlook on life that many-worlds interpretation brings, if you choose to believe in it.
Consider the very fact that you are here at this meeting with me. I want you to ask yourself, what kind of person would you be now, had you not joined Toastmasters? Would you and I and everyone else in this room still be friends?
It’s easy to dismiss these questions and say, well, Toastmasters turns people into great speakers, so I would have remained a terrible speaker if I hadn’t joined, or I couldn’t have met you, so we wouldn’t be friends. But is that really the case? Did your action of coming to Toastmasters create a new history, in which you became a better speaker and became friends with me and everyone else in this room? Or could there have been a different set of circumstances that leads to the same results—the same world that you are in today? Constants and variables.
But I digress. The many-worlds interpretation says there are infinite versions of this world, and by extension, infinite versions of you. The actions that your infinite selves take can be the same or different, leading to a world and you that are wholly unique. Think about what that means for a moment, though. Because of your actions, in one world, you are dead. In another world, you are alive and better off than you are in this world, and in yet another, you are alive but worse off. How can this thought be comforting? Why am I asking you to believe in many worlds?
Four years ago, I lost my best friend, Charles. Don’t worry, he didn’t die—we’re way too young for that. No, we broke up because he found a girlfriend and I didn’t like her. She was my arch-nemesis. It sounds silly to think about this now, but back then, I felt very depressed. I lost my best friend, whom I loved and cared for, and it was my fault. I was a mess for many months. It wasn’t until I found and played this video game, Bioshock Infinite, that I realized how to move on and be happy again. (So there you go, video games are awesome!)
It’s your turn now. Think about a time when you had a crisis and it was painfully difficult to move on. Loss of friend—like I lost Charles—parent, child, job, health. You spent months, if not years, mourning, didn’t you? Many-worlds says you don’t have to, ’cause in infinite worlds, you haven’t lost that friend, parent, child, job, and health, and you still live a life in conjunction with them. You shouldn’t be sad for your current state but can be happy for these infinite you’s, ’cause they are you and you are them. It’s like heaven and afterlife that exist in many religions, but the many worlds exist now, today. Conversely, think about the infinite you’s who are dead and worse off. It should be your duty to make the most of your life in this world and live happily for them, ’cause, again, they are you and you are them.
And that’s the beauty of many-worlds. The world that you are in and the you are that you are are imperfect and rife with tragedies. But many-worlds gives you infinite sources that you can draw strength from, so that you can move on and be happy once again. Despite all the imperfections and all the tragedies, the world that you are in and the you that you are are also, just extraordinary—the result of a seemingly, mathematically impossible sequence of actions, yet here we are. Here you are. Make the most of it and do extraordinary things. That’s what many-worlds interpretation is to me and I hope will be to you.
I started with a quote, so let me end with a quote. Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and do you know what happens next? The man in the poem ponders and ruminates so much on which road to take, that you end up doubting that he is happy with the road that he took. Unlike this man, you can happily take either road, ’cause there are infinite you’s in infinite worlds who take the other. You get to take both roads. You are infinite.